Black Peak
July 29-30, 2000

Black Peak, just south of the North Cascades Highway, is rapidly gaining a reputation as a classic summit, and deservedly so. Its location provides for very straightforward access, the approach affords wonderful views, and the mountain offers several routes to the summit, the two easiest being a simple scramble and a low level technical climb.

The approach starts on the popular Lake Ann loop trail, and it doesn't take long on a sunny summer day to see why this trail is so popular with hikers. The grade is gentle, the views are very nice, and the area you are walking through is quite beautiful. After a few switchbacks, views start quickly back towards the North Cascades Highway, with a classic view of Cutthroat Peak and Whistler Mountain presenting themselves first. Corteo Peak soon appears ahead and above you, then great views down to Lake Ann. (To get to Black Peak, you take the right fork in the trail which takes you high above Lake Ann, rather than to the lake itself). Shortly before arriving at Heather Pass, if you turn around and look behind you, you'll even get glimpses of the Liberty Bell group back at the hairpin turn on the Highway.

Once you arrive at the Pass, the remainder of the approach route is laid out in front of you. Looking west, you stare at the east face of Black Peak, and the hanging shelf that leads right to the base. The route consists of dropping down a bit from Heather Pass, then traversing gentle and easy slopes (snow covered for us) to Lewis Lake, then climbing up to the shores of Wing Lake, which provide an ideal spot to camp or bivy at. Not that this trip needs to take 2 days - a strong party could easily do the south route in a day, even with the drive from Seattle.

We dropped down to the snow covered benches, and boulder hopped here and there where the snow had melted off. Rocky cliffs above us gave notice that this would be a hazardous course if the snows hadn't been melted off in any but the most stable of snow conditions. It didn't take long to reach Lewis Lake, and we stopped there to rest and pump some water. It was a hot day, and the cold snow melt felt good. I should have probably drank more, and taken more time to cool off, as the heat really took it out of me on the final climb up to Wing Lake.

From Lewis Lake, Zac and I split up from Jerry and Cathy, and headed up the shores of Lewis Lake and then through gardens of krumholz up above. There was a well-established trail here that took us all the way to Wing Lake. Jerry and Cathy chose the more direct route, up steep snow fields and loose scree. I certainly would again go the way Zac and I did on any return trip. We stopped shortly before gaining the Wing Lake plateau for a bite of lunch, then continued on, catching up with Jerry and Cathy as they were already setting up camp near the mostly frozen lake. We watched a couple of other climbers descending the snow fields from the south route of Black Peak and checked out both the east face and the northeast ridge routes, niether of which looked terribly complicated, but you'd probably want ropes on either of them. The weather was perfect, but the bugs were moderate, so Jerry and Cathy opted for an early retreat into their tent. Zac and I wandered up above camp, looking for a good spot to enjoy the views and watch the sunset. From just above Wing Lake, the views east and north are fantastic and unobstructed. Mt. Hardy, Azurite, Cutthroat, Whistler, Liberty Bell, and Silver Star and just some of the peaks that seem to be close at hand. As the sun set, we were able to see the shadow of the earth creep up over the horizon - one of the best spots to watch a sunset from I've ever been at.

The route to Black Peak
The Route to Black Peak from Heather Pass. East face of Black Peak in distance.
Black Peak
East face of Black Peak from camp
The next day dawned clear and sunny, and the route finding continued to be quite simple. We were just going up the non-technical south face route, so carrying light packs we left early in the morning. We followed the prominent snowfield up towards the left hand skyline, and as we climbed higher we found that the snow was still quite firm, even with the warm weather. As we approached the top of the ridge where the snowfield steepened, I was wishing I had my crampons, which I'd left back in camp in the interest of saving weight. Planting my ice axe very firmly, and holding on with a stress tightened grip, I gingerly worked my way up, then across, to an area where the ridge was finally easily accessed. I was following Jerry, Cathy and Zac, and still the steps in the snow were much less than an inch deep. We took a break on the ridge, and paused to play name that peak to the south now that we could see that direction. The views are really quite stunning - Storm King and Goode are right in your face, and Glacier Peak is on the horizon.

The way is fairly obvious from there until you're just under the summit ridge, although the gully you will be working up is filled with loose rock and scree. Keeping the party close together is essential here, to avoid party inflicted rock fall. Finding the 3rd class route that accessed the true summit proved a bit tricky. Jerry, Cathy and I traversed right as far as we could on a shelf that stayed about 20 feet below the true summit. When it dead ended, we were given fabulous views back down to our camp site next to frozen Wing Lake, and a 4th class route to the summit. I would have opted for heading back and looking harder for a 3rd class access, but Cathy and Jerry were both game to scramble up, and they were willing to drop me a rope so I could do the same, but protected. Thank goodness for learning the bowline on a coil! Shortly after the three of us arrived at the summit, Zac came strolling along the ridge, pleased that he had found the easy way up, and not felt the least bit of exposure. We had a bite of lunch, admired the tremendous views (only surpassed by Sahale Peak for me), and then headed back the way Zac had some up to investigate his route. Sure enough, it was easy third class back down to the traversing shelf. Even though I've been on it, I'm not sure I can describe exactly where to find it, except to say it's about half way to as far as you can follow the shelf. Not much help, but knowing that there is a third class route to the summit might encourage others to look for it a little harder than we did! The descent from here to the snow slopes is easy, but again over scree covered ledges. allow plenty of time to walk through this area carefully, both to avoid slipping, and to avoid knocking rocks down on anyone below you.

Once down to the top of the snow fields, we opted to acess the snow from a point further east than we had ascended. I think this proved a good choice, and I still think I might have ascended the eastern side of the snow slopes had I been out in front instead of following. The first short distance on the snow is quite steep, and with as hard as the snow was it required very agressive heel placement. Soon, though, the angle lessened, and the snow softened, and the remainder of the descent became a fun romp down easy snowfields.

Back in camp we stopped for a bit more to eat before retracing our steps and heading for home. Zac and I again chose to follow the trail down to Lewis Lake, passing through the lovely pine and rock gardens on the way, while Cathy and Jerry slid on snow and scree skied down along side of us. A quick stop a Lewis Lake for more water, then the slow plod back up to Heather Pass began. The heat again took its toll on me, and I was soon dragging significantly behind the others. I had to sit and take a rest when I finally got into any shade at all, and at that point Zac came back to see how I was doing, since the rest of them had been up at the Pass for 5 or 10 minutes already. We walked back to where Cathy and Jerry were resting, then headed back down towards Lake Ann, and down the trail to the cars.

Black Peak comes highly recommended - easy approach, fabulous views, easy (if somewhat loose) climb, excellent camping - hard to get any better than that!. I'd like to head back and do the NE Ridge one of these days - it looked easy and inviting, although you'd want to carry rope and rack for that one!

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